Beerline Cafe Offers Vegan Variety
Even something that smells like bacon. And all very fresh.
My introduction to vegan food came some years ago at Café Manna in Brookfield where I encountered cauliflower masquerading as rice. At the time, Café Manna was the lone restaurant dedicated to vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free meals in the Milwaukee area. Now we have the Beerline Café, down by the river on Commerce, a few blocks north of Brady. There’s a Café Manna connection as owner Michael Allen formerly worked at the Brookfield café.
Located on a corner, it’s underneath a building that houses several condos. It was an empty space waiting for a tenant on a street lined with condos, creating a dense population with many potential customers. However, on both visits, my friends and I found this cheery sun-filled space mostly empty. We also found delicious food, friendly service, even though we ordered at the counter, and reasonably priced dishes. The cafe needs to be discovered and that may be happening since its Grand Opening on November 20th.
Thanks to dramatic, floor-to-high ceiling windows on three sides, sun pours into the café from dawn to dusk. I kept my sunglasses on — fine by me. The concrete floor and exposed pipes give the place a raw charm — a kind of cool industrial chic that’s warmed by wooden tables and counters of varying sizes.
It might be time to retire the red and blue patio umbrellas until after winter, but come a warm day in spring, I’ll be among the early guests at an outside table.
The first thing that caught our attention when we came in the glass door was the bakery in the display case. “Everything is made in-house,” the young woman who took our order said, “except the bakery. We get it from Wildflower and East Side Ovens.”
My companion and I ordered Paninis. She chose the Café and because I can’t resist a bacon fix, I ordered the BLAT(z). Bacon in a vegetarian restaurant? I even said to my friend while we waited, “I can smell it. Hear it sizzle. Good to know it’s not sitting under a heat lamp.”
What was I thinking? My BLAT(z) panini appeared to have everything as advertised, crisp lettuce, sliced tomato, avocado, and a tasty house-made Tabasco mayo, albeit vegan. But bacon? Tucked in between the lettuce and the tomato were little slices of something brown that looked like chopped cashews and tasted slightly sweet.
“That’s tempeh,” our server explained. “It’s fermented soybeans, the protein we use in place of meat.” I know tempeh, it’s brown, firm, chewy, and unlike its cousin tofu, has a mild earthy flavor. When combined with the rest of the traditional BLT ingredients, it made a unique sandwich. I would order it again. (The menu read “seitan” bacon, a product made of wheat gluten. This will be corrected and tempeh will be listed on an updated menu.)
She did encounter a small problem when she ordered from the Cold Drink menu, the Lemon Bomb, a 4 oz. mix of lemon juice, carrot juice, and a pinch of cayenne. She started with a sip, a wise move. “It burned all the way down,” she said. “It’s painful.” I tried it and decided if I drank 4 oz. it would rip a hole in my stomach.
“Yes, it’s intense,” our server explained. “It’s more of a cleansing drink, like a Master Cleanse with lemon, cayenne and maple syrup.” This one might be improved with a large shot of maple syrup. Maybe!
On a second visit we ordered from the Savory crepe menu. The paninis were satisfying, but the superstars at the café are the crepes. From a list that included a simple Fromage crepe, shredded cheddar and queso fresco, a Caprese, and an enticing Spring Roll crepe topped with peanut sauce and mint leaves, we ordered the Classic Breakfast and the Egg and Cheese. At this point we had to choose between regular batter, vegan, or gluten-free. Both crepes, served galette-style, held two eggs, melted cheese, and tomato coulis drizzled on top. In the Classic, roasted rosemary potatoes and tempeh bacon added additional layers of flavor and a few more calories. The touch of sweet from the bacon, the hint of sour from the coulis, the salty potatoes lightly touched by rosemary, all surrounded by a tender crepe, made a memorable lunch entrée.
There’s more. I spied a gorgeous salad on an adjacent table and a bowl of avocado hummus surrounded by tortilla chips. Next time I’ll order a sweet crepe, maybe Berries and Cream topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, or Fruitella Nutella, a fruit-filled crepe topped with that same chocolate sauce.
The café also serves a long list of coffee drinks, hot and cold tea, juice blends, smoothies, wine by the glass or carafe, and bottled beer from Lakefront and Sprecher.
No longer do Eastsiders who crave healthful vegetarian/vegan food need to trek to the west side of Brookfield. We have our own “fast, casual” moderately priced vegetarian café on the lower East Side.
2076 N. Commerce St.
Hours: open daily 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.